Controversial Henry the Navigator panels

Controversial Henry the Navigator panels go on show in Lagoa

A reproduction of the ‘Altarpiece of São Vicente’ panels is one of the highlights of the anniversary exhibition ‘Arte Algarve Open X’ coming to Lagoa in April.
The reason is not just the painstaking work that has gone into this masterpiece of modern mosaic creation but the secret it holds about one of Portugal’s most popular historic figures, Henry the Navigator.
The huge mosaic portrays Lisbon’s 15th century elite, including the King and Queen, the Princes, bishop, and the heads of the most important professional guilds.
But there is one man who stands out, “due to his scarf-like hat” – and that man has traditionally been explained as Henry the Navigator, the ‘brains’ behind the Golden Age of the Discoveries.
“Historians tell us that the man with the hat is Henry the Navigator, but it is a national lie! It is his royal brother, Dom Duarte!” Arte Algarve’s Rolf Osang reveals.
“In all travel guides, but also in scientific literature, you can read that the person next to São Vicente is Henry the Navigator. His strange hat has become a logo of Portuguese Discoveries and national pride. He appears on restaurant menus, on monuments, on stamps, book covers … He has become an icon of Portugal. But historians know that this is not Henry. It is his brother Duarte.”
And the reason behind this ‘national lie’, explains Osang, is that the ‘real’ Henry simply looked far too English.
“Portugal people did not want to have an idol that was the son of Queen Philippa of Lancaster and looked British, so they found this man who wore a distinctive hat and the depressed expression of a Fado singer,” he told us, explaining that Henry can be identified “quite clearly” on the second panel from the right, kneeling: “He wears the cross of the Order of Christ, because he is the governor of the order. Of course, national history does not want to show an Englishman but a severe Portuguese man … Did you know that King Duarte died of depression? In the painting you can see the illness…
“They decided to call him Henry as he fitted much better into the national concept. A Portuguese man, a hat – a logo.”
According to Osang, most Portuguese historians know this story, but none thus far has “raised their voice to demystify the national lie”.
Intrigue notwithstanding, it took mosaic artist José Freire over a year to complete his stunning copy of Nuno Gonçalves’ original 15th century work.
Measuring 3,50m wide by 1,40m high, it is the same size as the original, considered to be one of Portugal’s most important pieces of art.
Freire’s São Vicente mosaic premieres at the anniversary exhibition of ‘Arte Algarve Open X’ on April 12, at 3pm in Lagoa.
See more details on the gallery website: